This super easy and flavorful Vegan Aglio e Olio Pasta dish is a quick and versatile meal. Dress it up with fancy olives, cook down some kale for a little nutrition, or ditch these suggestions and add whatever you like to this delicious vegan pasta dish.
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Hey Internet, it’s been a little while since I gave you a super easy pasta dish--and those are a favorite in this house so I figure it is time for another one.
My favorite easy pasta dishes are also some our reader favorites, such as our vegan garlic noodles, vegan creamy pasta, vegan tahini pasta, vegan cacio e pepe, vegan cajun pasta, vegan vodka sauce with pasta, and vegan puttanesca pasta, to name (more than) a few.
This dish, which we can call vegan aglio olio for short, is amazing. The traditional dish is called aglio e olio (pronounced ah-lee-oh eh oh-lee-oh and means garlic and oil in Italian), is also commonly referred to as spaghetti aglio e olio because it is traditionally served with spaghetti.
It is thought to have originated in southern Italy, around Naples. I still dream of being able to visit Italy!
Anyway. This dish is just inspired by that one. I know it’s spaghetti aglio e olio… but…
Well, I like to use bucatini sometimes instead because it’s so thick and works with all those awesome ingredients we add to the pasta. But you can use whatever pasta you like!
The traditional ingredients are little more than just pasta, good quality olive oil, salt, and garlic. But of course, we like to be just a little extra here at Zardyplants… because FLAVOR!
So our vegan aglio olio includes some fancy castelvetrano olives (use whatever olives you like--or none at all), some lacinato (dino) kale that gets absolutely delicious and still nutritious in our pasta, a little vegan parmesan, and a little fresh lemon zest and juice at the end. Also, red pepper flakes!
All this makes it a feels-fancy recipe that is actually very little work for the cook, but is sure to impress. Great for a dinner with friends but also just a weeknight dinner. Treat yo’ self.
Why This Recipe Works
Vegan aglio e olio is not a hard recipe to make. In fact, it’s incredibly easy. There’s a few things to do though.
First we must salt the pasta water. This is one of the main ways the actual pasta gets its flavor, so don’t skip.
I’ve read that the proper way to salt your pasta water is to bring your water to a boil, then add about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, stir to let it dissolve, and then bring it back to a boil which never takes more than 30 seconds for me. Then add your pasta.
Also, make sure not to overcook your pasta. Cook only till al dente, which is slightly chewy. It will cook a little further when we transfer it to the other pan so we don’t want it to cook too long.
It’s also important to reserve some of that starchy pasta water! We’ll mix that with the olive oil and other ingredients to create a silky and almost creamy pasta sauce.
To reserve pasta water, either carefully use a glass measuring cup to remove about 1 ½ cups of water from the pot when the pasta is almost to al dente, or place the measuring cup in the sink below your colander (for this reason I like to use an over the sink strainer) and make sure you “aim” for it when you drain the water from your pasta.
It’s not the end of the world if you did not reserve your pasta water, but you may want to add a bit more olive oil (or you can use vegetable broth in a pinch) to cover the pasta.
Finally, when you’re cooking the sliced garlic in the oil, it’s important not to brown the garlic. If it is starting to overcook, you can stop the heat (or move onto the other ingredients) until the pasta is almost done.
But I’ve made this vegan aglio olio recipe a ton to figure out the timing properly and if you follow my instructions you should be just fine. It is a forgiving dish, too.
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Ingredients and Substitutions
- 16 ounces pasta: Traditionally aglio e olio is made with spaghetti or other long thin noodles. I personally love bucatini so that’s what I used. Use what you like. If you are gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free pasta.
- ⅓ cup good extra virgin olive oil: This is part of the name for our vegan aglio olio, so you’ll need some good extra virgin olive oil.
- 6-8 cloves garlic: Also in the name! You can use a LOT of garlic or only a little, or a medium amount. The amount I used is closer to a LOT, so judge and act by your own tastes
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes: These are traditionally used in this dish, but feel free to omit if you don’t like spicy food.
- 1 cup parsley: Chopped fresh parsley is often included in this dish though it may not be part of the original recipe. It is quite delicious and fresh, though.
- 1 bunch lacinato (dino) kale: I just LOVE kale or other dark leafy greens in my pasta. I swear, it’s not tough, hard to chew, or bitter at all. But if you prefer spinach, use that and stir it in at the end. Or leave it out and the recipe will still be delicious.
- Castelvetrano olives: Olives, in my opinion, are a completely awesome addition to vegan aglio e olio. However untraditional they may be, they are also quite delicious. Castelvetrano olives in particular are mild and nutty, making them the perfect addition to this pasta dish. Use your favorite olives or omit them entirely.
- 2-3 tablespoons vegan butter or more olive oil: This is for when we stir in the pasta to give a little more oomph to the flavor and sauce.
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest + 2-3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice: Untraditional but ultra delicious… and optional.
- 1 cup basil leaves for even more herby flavor
- ⅓ cup vegan parmesan cheese, optional: I did not feel like this absolutely needed any vegan parmesan, though it was also a welcome addition. Cheese is not a traditional part of the recipe but many folks do seem to add it to their plates. You decide for yourself.
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How to Make Vegan Aglio e Olio
- Note: Because this sauce comes together so quickly and you don’t want your pasta to overcook nor your garlic to burn, I recommend preparing, slicing, etc. all of your ingredients beforehand. Slice up that garlic and those olives, wash/stem/chop the kale into bite size pieces, finely chop the parsley, measure out the red pepper flakes and the olive oil. Be ready because it will go fast!
- Cook a pound of pasta according to package directions. Make sure to adequately salt your pasta water because that’s where the pasta itself will get a good dose of its flavor. Bring your water to a boil, then add about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, stir to let it dissolve, and then bring it back to a boil which never takes more than 30 seconds for me. Then add your pasta and cook until al dente (slightly still chewy).
- Make sure to reserve about 1 ½ cups of pasta water right before the pasta is drained. This will help us create a luscious sauce.
- Once the pasta is in, add olive oil to a large nonstick pot and heat it over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes until it just begins to turn a light golden brown color. Do not let it burn--turn down the heat if it is cooking too quickly.
- Add the red pepper flakes, parsley, and kale. Stir well so everything is coated in oil. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, tossing frequently.
- Now add the sliced olives and stir.
- When your pasta is al dente, use tongs to add it to the garlic and oil mixture. Toss well, add the vegan butter or another splash of olive oil, and slowly stir in the starchy pasta water, continuing to toss and stir the pasta. You may not need all of it.
- Once you are satisfied with the stirring and the sauce, add the lemon juice + zest, a pinch of salt if needed, vegan parmesan if using, and the chopped basil. Toss once again and serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Refrigerate leftover vegan aglio e olio for up to 3 days, but like most pasta this tastes the best on the first night.
Frequently Asked Questions
This vegan aglio olio is intended as a main course and thus would pair well with a light side salad or some steamed or roasted vegetables like broccoli or asparagus. However, if you’d like to serve it as a side, it would pair well with tofu schnitzel, seitan chicken, vegan drumsticks, vegan steak, or vegan sausage.
Store leftover vegetarian aglio olio in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat in a pan over medium low heat, adding a bit more olive oil if needed.
I am often asked this, and the number one reason is flavor! I like adding lots of flavor to my food. That’s just how I am and my husband is the same way. If you don’t like them, I’m always very explicit where you’re able to omit ingredients and it won’t hurt the recipe. It’s your food so it’s your decision. I’m just offering some options.
Pro Tips for Success
- Definitely prep/chop/measure out all your ingredients before beginning. This recipe goes pretty fast once you get started and you don’t want to burn the garlic or overcook the pasta.
- If you accidentally burn the garlic, discard it and start over. Burnt garlic is a really strong taste and not suited for this dish.
- I highly recommend salting your pasta water as this will help the pasta taste more flavorful.
- Use good quality extra virgin olive oil you know you like the taste of.
- Customize the ingredients to what you enjoy. This vegan aglio olio is super versatile. Hate olives or kale? Leave them out, substitute spinach at the end, etc. Love sundried tomatoes? Try adding those. Think I’m insane for using 8 cloves of garlic? You’re welcome to use less. Think 1 pound of pasta is way too much? Halve all the ingredients for less pasta. It’s your food!
More Vegan Pasta Recipes Like This
- Vegan Carbonara
- Vegan Cacio e Pepe
- Pasta with Vegan Vodka Sauce
- Vegan Creamy Pasta
- Vegan Buttered Noodles
- Tahini Pasta
- Vegan Ragu
- Vegan Pasta Primavera
- Pasta with Vegan Meat Sauce
- Vegan Manicotti
- Vegan Baked Ziti